Gerber: News takes lots of forms

Gerber: News takes lots of forms

March 25th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

What's the definition of news?

We discuss this question often in the Times Free Press newsroom, especially when it comes to the selection of stories for the front page.

In its most simplistic form, news is information that tells you something interesting, something you didn't know or something you want or need to know more about. It's information you need, but it's also information you want.

Some stories are no-brainers. When Volkswagen adds 800 jobs to its Chattanooga plant, that's a slam-dunk front-page story, especially in a feeble economy.

Others take more discussion.

Lately, we've put several sports stories on the front page. Traditionalists think sports news belongs only on the sports page. But on several recent days, the most talked-about topic among Tennesseans - not to mention Vols and NFL fans everywhere - was the will-he-won't-he discussions after Peyton Manning's flirtation with the Tennessee Titans.

So is this news? Yes.

Is it front-page news? I believe so. If you stop to get gas and the store clerk is talking about Manning and you stop at the coffee shop and the chatter is the Titans vs. the Broncos vs. the 49ers, then you get to work and your coworkers are chewing over the same subject, that's a pretty good indication that it's interesting and, therefore, newsworthy.

We call them "Hey, Mabel!" stories, the kind that, when you walk out on your driveway and see your next-door neighbor in her yard, you say, "Hey, Mabel, didya hear about ...?"

I received a letter recently (yes, actual letter, the type that comes in the U.S. mail) from a reader who asked why we place sports stories on Page One. He said he likes sports news but wondered if it was displacing more serious news.

But news isn't always serious. News also encompasses stories that are informative, interesting and simply entertaining.

It can even be about entertainment.

Editors at the newspaper have debated whether we've put Rossville native Lauren Alaina on the front page too often. We actually even counted the number of times the "American Idol" runner-up appeared on the front page.

But when a local teenager finishes second in a national competition with a television audience of 29 million, it's difficult to say that isn't news. It's certainly being talked about out in the community - sometimes

more than the goings-on that week at the Chattanooga City Council, something we cover without fail.

The paper would look out of touch if we didn't acknowledge the most-discussed story in the city on our front page. It is not hard news but still may be the biggest story of the day.

And hard news relevant to this community - crime and public safety, politics, budget cuts and taxes, debates on issues such as guns, abortion or education, watchdog stories - will always dominate the front page of this paper. But sports and entertainment will sometimes make their way out there, too.

When editors decide a sports or celebrity or human interest story is worth the front page, the hard news does not go away. It moves to the Metro front or inside A section, but it'll still be there.

But if your neighbor hollers at you one morning and says, "Hey, didya hear about ...?" don't be surprised to see that story on the front page.